At the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival, I didn’t see the double rainbows that were so magnificent at the 2014 celebration — but they were musically evident whenever the Kris Tokarski Trio took the stage.
The extent of my devotion to this group was evident to anyone who saw me following them around, a happy man, breathing hard because of the altitude and the excitement in equal measure, with video camera and tripod. They played eight sets; I caught seven.
The Trio is Kris Tokarski, piano; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Hal Smith, drums. It’s a trio that balances deep seriousness and lighter-than-air play. Its music is tangible but translucent: you hear the whole but admire the individual voices twining together. Think of Casals, Thibaud, Cortot. Simeon, James P., and Pops Foster. Benny, Teddy, and Dave Tough. Singing lyricism, floating swing.
And they did the thing I prize most, which is to honor the tradition by being themselves. Heaven knows each of these players knows the clearly-delineated tradition — on records, in performance with other musicians, studying the Masters in person — but they know (to quote Emerson) that imitation is suicide and (to quote Lester) you must go for yourself.
I was telling a friend about a favorite Roddy Doyle novel, THE VAN, about two Irish friends who open a mobile fish-and-chips business, and their proud slogan is “Today’s chips today,” which is what I think of when I hear these performances: nothing warmed up under heat lamps, nothing stale. Music that’s truly alive in now.
Here is the first half of this Trios’s closing set of the Festival (I am working backwards), recorded in a church with wonderful acoustics. Kris chose to make this set a New Orleanian one, with gracious hot results.
JAZZ ME BLUES (for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, then Bix, then the Bobcats and Condon and and and:
SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (no doubt a Morton tune, and I come from the school that places a comma in the middle; it makes better dramatic sense):
THAT DA DA STRAIN, from Mamie Smith onwards to us in 2016:
BOGALUSA STRUT, a nod to the Sam Morgan ensemble:
What wonderful music. You can bet there will be more.
May your happiness increase!